Sunday, October 30, 2022

Mild Fear 2022 mea culpa

Ugh. Mild Fear 2022 just got away from me this month, which is a major bummer. I failed badly, like the dude who gets knocked off in the first five minutes of the slasher film and is only credited as "Teenager in vestibule." 

The blame is all mine, though I would list as extenuating circumstances: taking care of 14 cats (plus another pregnant stray outside) every day; having to get up at 5 a.m. on weekdays for work; the workload crunch of the midterm elections; and the wonderful distraction of the Philadelphia Phillies' surprise run to the World Series. 

And I had so much dandy stuff lined up, too, some of which is shown above. Of course, there's no time limit in blogging. I hope to write about some of this stuff down the road. In our hearts, Halloween can be every month, right?

Ashar and I have also been watching a bunch of horror movies. It's a nice way to relax when my brain is mush in the final hours of the day. (I've always been a morning writer, not an evening one.) Most of them are new to us. Some of the best ones we've watched are: The Babadook (2014), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and Let the Right One In (2008, Swedish). We're also still working our way through the nine Hammer Dracula films, which is a lot of Dracula, and a lot of coach rides through the day-for-night forest. And I introduced Ashar to a favorite from my teenage years: the 1985 TV movie The Midnight Hour. I could write a whole post about that. But that will have to come in another Mild Fear moment. For now, see ya on the other side of Samhain.
Above: Osmond Portifoy, aka Bounds, aka Prounce, aka Prounce de León.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Adolf Born's groovy title illustrations for "The Girl on a Broomstick"

The Girl on a Broomstick is a delightful 1972 comedy from Czechoslovakia that's still perfect for the Halloween season. It's about an alternate-universe witch-in-training named Saxana who is transported to our modern-day world, where she learns that school is no more fun here than it is in her own universe. There's plenty of hijinx — with jokes that work across all cultures — plus broom-riding and rabbits aplenty.

I don't know of all of the places where you can track down a copy, but it's currently available, in full, on YouTube. I first learned about the movie last year from the podcast The Projection Booth.

The opening credits set the kooky tone for The Girl on a Broomstick (Dívka na koštěti) thanks to the wonderful artwork by Adolf Born (1930-2016). It could be said that he was Czechoslovakia's version of Edward Gorey, though that comparison is a bit too simplistic. 

One of the more interesting footnotes Born may be remembered for is that he provided the artwork for the first movie version of The Hobbit, a 12-minute film that was rushed out in 1967 so that a producer could maintain the movie rights to Tolkien's novel. The film is barely animated, consisting mostly of camera movements and zooms on Born's artwork. While mostly unrelated to anything involving The Hobbit, it does include Bilbo stealing a magic ring from "Goloom."

Getting back to The Girl on a Broomstick, here is some of Born's artwork from the opening credits. Check out the movie itself; I don't think you'll be disappointed!

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Olya Luki's beautiful autumns

I get a pretty good Instagram feed delivered to me, because almost everyone I follow is either an artist, photographer, or curator of great art and photography. I don't follow influencers, so my feed isn't mucked up by the commercial stuff that many people say ruin the Instagram experience for them.

Anyway, one of the artists I follow is Olya Luki of Russia. She's a great one to follow, if you're a fan of cozy, colorful scenes. These are understandably difficult times for Russian artists, for reasons that are no fault of theirs. I believe that artists should be embraced, wherever they are from. I'm glad that Olya Luki's artwork is out there for the world to see. I think it often dreams up a better version of what the world could be.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Frau Arndt's "Fairy Tales from the German Forests"

Nine years ago, I put on my Daniel Plainview voice and asked why I didn't have a copy of Fairy Tales from the German Forests on my bookshelf. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to come across a copy, and I didn't even have to swindle the Bandy family to do so.

It's a delightful little hardcover book that measures 4¼ inches by 6⅜ inches and runs 256 pages.

It was published by Everett & Co. of London. There's no publication year, but multiple sources indicate that it was 1913. The front endpapers (see illustration below) indicate it was part of "Everett's Library."

The most information I found about the book's history is from a 2020 blog post on Storytelling for Everyone. There, Kate Farrell explains that Frau Arndt, the listed author, is a pen name for Margaret Heaton, who was likely British (which means she was retelling German folklore as a non-native). She was related to novelist G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), who provided the cover illustration and the single interior illustration (shown below). You can see the initials "G.K.C." on both illustrations, if you look closely.

Story titles include "The Engineer and the Dwarfs," "Kätchen and the Kobold," "The Dragon's Tale" and "The Nixy Lake." Here's the beginning of "The Dragon's Tail":
"I wonder if the girls and boys who read these stories, have heard of the charming and romantic town of Eisenach? I suppose not, for it is a curious fact that few English people visit the place, though very many Americans go there. Americans are well known to have a special interest in old places with historical associations, because they have nothing of the sort in America."

There are some interesting reviews of the book, most from the past few years, on Goodreads. It's praised for its "Old World, ethereal, otherworldly vibe" and for being a book in which one can "get lost in the whimsical world of the fae." Another reviewer notes that the book can be dated by the mentions of electricity, railways and dynamite — and the fact that it was clearly penned before World War I began in 1914. That reviewer notes, "The stories themselves show the author's perspective and prejudices, and a distinctly British tone and superiority in the expressions she chooses. Kings and dragons are generally old and tired, and forest people are working at keeping away from modern influences."

Here are some interior photos of the book.
And here's Osmond Portifoy (aka "Bounds") posing with the little volume. (This photo is from about three weeks ago. She's bigger now.)

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor (1926-2022)

Britain's queen died today at age 96 at her 19th century castle in Scotland.

Her 70-year reign as monarch began in one era of the modern world and ended in a very different one, as The Washington Post noted:
"On the morning of her father’s death [in 1952], on the day she would become queen, 25-year-old Elizabeth was perched in a treehouse in Kenya watching a herd of elephants at a watering hole. Because of the distance and difficulty of communication, it took hours for her to get the news.

"On Thursday, in just one marker of how much the world changed during her 70-year reign, the news of her own sudden illness and death spread in milliseconds, via the royal family’s Twitter account. Flight tracking data revealed the paths of her children rushing to her bedside at Balmoral Castle. By the time the royal household staff posted the black-bordered death notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace, everybody knew. The BBC news anchors were already dressed in black."
The picture of Elizabeth II on this postcard was taken in front of Sandringham House in Norfolk, England. That's where George V and George VI died, and it's now owned by Charles III. The postcard was mailed from Edinburgh to Boston in September 1977 with a 10p stamp picturing the queen. The breezy note discusses apples and the weather.

The upcoming days will be filled with solemn pageantry and some reckonings, uneasy at best and veering toward fresh anger at Britain's bloody, oppressive past. Writes NBC News' Janelle Griffith: "While Elizabeth ruled as Britain navigated a post-colonial era, she still bore a connection to its colonial past, which was rooted in racism and violence against Asian and African colonies. There have been growing calls in recent years for the monarchy to confront its colonial past.

Longtime Washington journalist Stacy M. Brown added: "Elizabeth’s legacy isn’t necessarily complicated, but filled with enough ambiguity and action and inaction that it might be easy to understand why people of color might view her different that the adoring throng mourning outside of Buckingham Palace. The longest-reigning British monarch’s history on race will forever exist as part of her legacy."

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Letters 2022

Since March 2020, a large portion of my waking hours each day have been spent with letters and correspondence. There are the postcards and letters of the distant past and harrowing present. The email exchanges that come with Postcrossing and having pen pals. And then there's my job, which coincidentally has evolved into one that's primarily focused on assessing, editing and fact-checking letters written to the newspaper's opinion page. Some letters are insightful and eloquent, some are terrifying and unpublishable, and all of the letters are written from the heart, each one giving a glimpse into what we think of each other and our fragile world.

As a snapshot of 2022 for posterity, I want to share some lines from letters and correspondence in all of those categories. No commentary, and certainly no endorsements implied.
  • "The times are crazy. At least I will go to Ukraine on Aug 24 and hopefully see my friends and family."
  • "We live in a time of war, when the possibility of nuclear war in Ukraine is in the news. On all sides, trillions of dollars are going into armaments for the next generation of war. World War III seems to be our future."
  • "Allow gun owners to buy/own semi-automatics, but restrict them to HOME PROTECTION ... NOT to be carried around or licensed to hunt down anything, including people."
  • "Normally it's raining a lot where I live, but this year it's over 32°C (~90 Fahrenheit) and I'm suffering in my little flat under the roof [in Germany]. I'm half joking about moving to Sweden and half serious."
  • "Yes we have terrible heat, and lot of fires, it is not usual this situation! ... I hope here [Canary Islands] we don't rise [to] this temperature."
  • "I still dream of moving closer to the ocean or sea & mountains."
  • "What's the point of this never ending January 6th investigation hoax? Very few people care."
  • "Our history is painful for us, so we pay lip service to our painful eras and we move on, only looking back at what makes us feel good."
  • "Any system that gives you HRC and Donald Trump for Pres is by definition dead. ... America will collapse within five years. ... I'd have extra food, cash, water etc. Also, extra ammo for your AR 15s."
  • “We tell our children that school is a safe place. A place to make friends and learn valuable life lessons. One of those life lessons now involves how to huddle in a dark classroom, remain quiet and run for their lives if they need to."
  • "There is now only one major party that supports democracy, and that is the Democratic Party."
  • "The Democratic Swamp Creatures are coming for me & you. Stock up on your Ammo and have your guns ready. I'm ready. I have 12 Guns. Let them come. God Bless America."
  • "Peace."

Monday, September 5, 2022

A trio of cat postcards

With a little help from Bandit, here are three dandy cat-themed postcards I received in the mailbox via Postcrossing over the past week...
Above: This postcard is from Manon, a 24-year-old from Paris who loves cats. The black-cat illustration is by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923). Manon writes: "Living with 17 cats sounds like a dream to me. I like them so much. I'm catsitting this summer for their very much welcome company." 

We're actually now down to 14 cats. Three of the 10-week-olds found their new forever homes last week and, fortunately, their mother (Orange) is adjusting fairly well to their absence. I think more adoptions, getting us down to 11 cats, would end up being our best "running speed" moving forward. But if it ends up being 12, 13 or 14, it's not a huge deal. They're just adorable.
Above: Rob from Canada writes: "17 cats wow. We have one hedgehog named Polo that is enough. :) For fun I have a YouTube channel called That Dad Guy. Stay safe."

A lot of Rob's YouTube videos involve Postcrossing and stamps, which is pretty cool!

By the way, if I had a pet hedgehog, I'd name it Spiny Norman. And I'd give one of our naughtiest cats the nickname Dinsdale. 

One of our 10-week-old kittens, by the way, is named Osmond Portifoy. That's because I fancy being able to wander around the house in my bathrobe, holding a brandy snifter and calling out endlessly for Osmond Portifoy. Yes, it's a weird kind of cosplay here.
Above: Alexandra from Germany, who has a pet turtle named Manni 007, writes: "This postcard is from a cat cafe. There you can sit and pet the cats which live there. Maybe it is an idea for you? I think it must be wonderful with 17 cats. Meow!"

The cat cafe is Zur Mieze - Katzenmusikcafé in Berlin. According to an English translation of its website, cats Gretta, Caroline, Ali, Jewels and Kenzo "find their home here and contribute to a quiet, relaxed and stress-free atmosphere in the middle of the big city. Our kitties were from the animal welfare association."

The tale gets even more heartwarming. The animal welfare association is Hand in Hand for Cats eV, which has been working throughout the year to help Ukrainian refugees, their pets and animal-rights activists who courageously remain in Ukraine. They accept PayPal donations, if you want to help them continue their necessary work.

OK, that's all. Bandit is all tired out.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Carlos Mérida's delightful illustrations for "The Magic Forest"

So far as I can tell, famed Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida (1891-1985) didn't illustrate many books during his long career of focusing primarily on canvas, ceramics and murals. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways, from 1947, is perhaps the most notable example of Mérida doing book illustrations; he provided about 100 drawings.1

Mérida also collaborated with author Patricia Fent Ross on at least three books. Two of them are Made in Mexico: The Story of a Country's Arts and Crafts and The Hungry Moon: Mexican Nursery Tales. The third is today's featured book: The Magic Forest, which was published in 1948 by Alfred A. Knopf under the Borzoi Books for Young People label.

Here's a little about Mérida's career from, purely coincidentally, the website of the nearby Phoenix Art Museum:
"Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida is best known for creating Modernist abstract art that integrated Latin American culture with 20th-century European painting. ... In 1910, at the age of 19, Mérida presented work in his first art exhibition. That same year, he moved to Paris, where he lived for four years and met and worked with Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Amedeo Modigliani, as well as several prominent Latin American artists residing in Europe at that time. ... He was known for integrating figurative elements into his abstract art, such as colorful organic and geometric representations of clusters of people, and employed a variety of media, including watercolor, oil, gouache and pencil, and parchment and plastic."
Mérida's illustrations, including the cover and endpapers, for The Magic Forest are pure delight. As for the story itself, its characters include Concha and Coco Perez, who are twins; Peddy, the Chief of the Elves; Queen Peachblossom; Raul the Fox; Rosita Rabbit; Dido the Dog; Mario Monkey; Chippy Chipmunk; Mr. Bear; Bully Badger and Derry Deer. In 1948, a short review from Kirkus called it "a disturbing fairy tale for the five and six year olds [but] older children will find it enjoyable in somewhat the manner of the Wilde tales." That's the only review I could find online. The book isn't even listed on Goodreads, which is curious for something from a major publisher as relatively recent as 1948. I might go ahead and rectify that.

Here is a sampling of Merida's illustrations, starting with the front endpapers.
1. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways is subtitled "The Customs, Myths, Folklore, Tradition, Beliefs, Fiestas, Dances and Songs of the Mexican People." Reviewing it on Amazon in 2007, someone noted: "This fascinating book is a magnificent, all-inclusive account of the Mexican people, their colorful, dramatic, and ancient traditions and ways of life, worship, work, and play. It is filled with rare and wonderful stories of saints, heroes, cowboys, bandits; descriptions of exotic dances and fiestas; accounts of strange customs and ceremonies. All the folk arts -- pottery making, gold and silver work, carving, weaving, hand-drawn work -- are thoroughly described and lavishly illustrated with line drawings and photographs. ... [It] is nothing less than an encyclopedia, a virtual one-volume course in Mexican lore and culture."